Cellist Walter Preucil has performed with Midsummer’s Music Festival since the very first concert 21 years ago. His wife, violinist Stephanie Preucil, joined the ensemble the following year. Now, 21 years later, two of their three boys will be performing with us this summer!
The following article was written by Gary Jones and published in the Peninsula Pulse last summer.
“If it weren’t for the Eastman School of Music,” Walter Preucil said, “our family wouldn’t exist!”
Careers have many times been built around a music school experience, but a family that grew out of one is less common. Such is the case with cellist Walter and violinist Stephanie Preucil, both who have been with the Midsummer’s Music Festival (MMF) since its inception and have been bringing their three musician sons Zachary, Anthony, and James with them each summer to Door County.
“In the 1950s both Walter’s parents and mine attended the Eastman School of Music in New York,” Stephanie said. “They met and married, and 30 years later, Walter and I met at Eastman and married.”
“The director at Eastman acknowledged our upcoming wedding at graduation,” Walter added, “and commented that a strong force was getting even stronger!”
Stephanie’s parents were Gladys and Alex Kanack, owners of the String House – an instrument dealership now run by Stephanie’s brothers. Her parents performed in several orchestras, as well as taught.
“Walter’s and my parents knew each other at Eastman,” Stephanie said. “I might never have met Walter if my mom had not told me to introduce myself!”
“My father William was on the faculty at the University of Iowa,” Walter said, “and my mother Doris founded and directed the Preucil School of Music.”
Violist William and violinist Doris, along with their children William, Jr., Anne, Jeanne, and of course, Walter, presented chamber music concerts around the country as the “Preucil Family Players.” The parents and brothers have all played with the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF), and the men have appeared with the PMF as soloists.
The musicians who perform in the Midsummer’s Music chamber ensemble “are like a family,” Walter said. “We look forward to meeting the challenges of the festival each year and being together.”
“Door County is a perfect place for this kind of thing,” Stephanie said, “a lot of interest, the warmth of the people who are so welcoming to the performers, and we play better because of that.”
One of the challenges of the festival, Walter noted, is the fact that the ensemble performs the world’s greatest masterpieces at peak performance. “We only enjoy playing at the highest level,” he said, “or it’s not fun!”
The changing venues during the concert season, including private homes as well as public places that sometimes serve as improvised concert halls, require the musicians to make adjustments depending upon the space and acoustics – “spontaneous changes in bowings and articulation every night,” Walter said. Occasionally he has to make a modification because the close quarters have put an audience member in the pathway of his bow!
And the lighting is unpredictable, often changing during the concert itself. “Sometimes the sun might be in my eyes,” Stephanie said, “and sometimes there’s a shadow on my page.”
Just as a family recognizes every member, a chamber ensemble is “a time for individual exposure in a collective way,” Stephanie said. “I’m the only one on my part.”
Walter likes the individuality of the performance, too. “I get to shape an ending,” he said, recalling one piece in particular in this season’s repertoire, “independently, using my experience and education, not following a conductor’s demands. That was fun! I could do it differently every night.”
The Preucils in the past have brought an additional family touch to the concerts. Their oldest son Zachary (now 19) is a composer and beginning at age eight, would create pieces that were performed as preludes at MMF concerts.
Because chamber music was historically performed in homes, the varied intimate concert spaces are traditionally appropriate, and audiences respond well to the immediacy of performances, a closeness that allows them not only to hear nuances of sound but also to see and almost literally touch the musicians.
The Preucils perform with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles in addition to MMF. Stephanie presently is a member of the Champagne Players. Walter has been a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestra since 1988, playing on a cello made by Giovanni Fiorillo in 1781. Stephanie, Walter, and pianist William Koehler have appeared together as the Classic Arts Trio for 20 years.
Both of the Preucils teach as well as perform. Stephanie and Walter are on the faculty of the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. In 2006 Stephanie received the Illinois ASTA Most Outstanding Studio Teacher Award. She has taught violin privately since age 14 and currently instructs 45 – 50 students each week.
Stephanie likes working with students to reach their potential as musicians, and as she uses the Suzuki instructional method, “helping them become a good person through the study of music.”
Students who begin lessons as three-year-olds, Walter added, “have a mother and a father and a teacher, the three adults influencing them throughout their lives, and the teacher is the first adult influence outside the family.”
“It’s rewarding to see my three-year-olds one day play senior recitals,” Stephanie said. “After 15 years of instruction, I have given them wings to go off to college!”
It seems that the Preucil’s children, too, will have wings in the music world. Zachary is going to be a junior at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, a cellist like his father, and this past summer he was a student at the Aspen Music Festival School.
Zachary practices four to six hours a day, without being nagged, his mother said, and the effort has paid off, as he has played principal cello in honors orchestras and successfully auditioned for exclusive music programs, such as the Bowdoin International Music Camp and the Quartet Program.
“He always has an audition coming up!” his father said.
Anthony, 13, is a violinist like his mother. And following his older brother, he seems destined for success as he plays first violin in youth orchestras (often the youngest among the musicians) and has served as concertmaster.
Eight-year-old James, who has played violin for four years, is advancing to the second level youth string orchestra and now is working on beginning concertos.
However this musical family does have a life beyond the pursuit of making music. Stephanie competes in triathlons; Walt runs marathons, skis the Birkebeiner, and paddles in canoe races. And, as Stephanie laughed, they enjoy madcap sporting activities, once canoeing in concert attire from Nicolet Beach in Peninsula State Park to the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim for a concert performance. Another time they biked from MMF violinist David Perry’s house in Stoughton (near Madison) to their home in Schaumburg, Illinois – 115 miles in one day!
For more information about the Midsummer’s Music Festival concert series visit www.midsummerSmusic.com or call 920.854.7088.
Reprinted with permission from the Peninsula Pulse.